Darlington Nagbe - Columbus Crew SC - smiling
Columbus Crew SC

Who won the MLS offseason? Five clubs that enjoyed impressive transfer windows

The offseason is over, all focus shifts to Week 1. 

Games and highlights will soon replace following all the transactions and rumors, with all 26 clubs soon to kick off their league campaigns. All those transactions that have come to fruition are the subject of scrutiny, as the clubs continued to improve at a rapid pace, with club transfer records broken seemingly on a weekly basis. 

Here are five teams that won the MLS offseason. 

Columbus Crew SC

Key additions: Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe, Vito Wormgoor

Key losses: Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain

Everybody's favorite dark-horse and offseason darling, the Crew didn't take long to transition fully under Tim Bezbatchenko and Caleb Porter. It began last summer and finished this winter, culminating with the additions of Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan to immediately give Columbus one of the top midfield trios in MLS. And not to fall into the dreaded "like a new signing" trope, but, Milton Valenzuela did miss all off last season, so, you know. 

The Crew are two-deep essentially at every position and considerably raised their ceiling with Zelarayan taking over for the injured-then-departed Federico Higuain at No. 10. 

Their floor is pretty high, too, with a strong core of MLS-proven contributors. Gyasi Zardes, Nagbe, Artur, Harrison Afful and Jonathan Mensah are all MLS vets. Summer signing Eloy Room fit in immediately. Luis Diaz, too. 

Sporting Kansas City

Alan Pulido joined SKC from Chivas this winter | Courtesy of Sporting Kansas City

Key additions: Alan Pulido, Gadi Kinda, Robert Puncec, Khiry Shelton, Winston Reid

Key losses: Krisztian Nemeth, Seth Sinovic, Jimmy Medranda

When Sporting Kansas City dumps a club-record transfer fee for Alan Pulido, more than the rest of their transfers in franchise history combined, the times are a-changin'. 

Since the days of Dom Dwyer, SKC's season leading scorer has had no more than 12 goals. Even when they scored a club-record 65 goals in 2018, winger Daniel Salloi led the team with 11 goals. With Pulido's pedigree and price tag, expectations are he'll find the net more than that. 

But they didn't miss the playoffs last season because of a lack of goals, though a few more wouldn't have hurt. It was because the defense conceded the second-most in MLS. That was addressed by signing Croatian center back Roberto Puncec and then a flier on West Ham defender Winston Reid, who arrives on loan.

Reid hasn't played a competitive senior game since March 2018. If he doesn't feature a minute for SKC, they'll survive because they have five other first team options at center back. If he stays on the field and shows the form that made him West Ham's defensive anchor in the Premier League, though, it's a coup. A few big "ifs", of course. 

Orlando City SC

Key additions: Junior Urso, Pedro Gallese, Antonio Carlos, Andres Perea

Key losses: Carlos Ascues, Lamine Sane, Sacha Kljestan

Sure, Orlando lose points for tearing down and rebuilding once more. But given former FC Dallas duo Oscar Pareja and Luiz Muzzi are wearing the hardhats and holding the blueprint for the latest construction project, optimism is surprisingly abundant for a team who have so far failed to live up to expectations. When you're kicked in the teeth, you close your mouth. 

Expectations also are different per club, even those highlighted here for excellent offseasons. The Crew won't be satisfied to sneak into the playoffs. Orlando City would be. Different stages of roster builds. 

Though it was a mostly youthful winter, Orlando also brought in a few key veterans. They added defensive midfielder Junior Urso from Corinthians, Peru international GK Pedro Gallese after a stint in Liga MX and center back Antonio Carlos from Palmeiras. Three new starters right up the spine, fortifying defensive solidity -- a welcome commodity for the club. 

Continuity and a long-term plan is another one they're striving for with Pareja. 

Colorado Rapids

After two years chasing him, the Rapids landed Younes Namli | Reuters/Action Images

Key additions: Younes Namli, Auston Trusty, Nico Benezet, Lalas Abubakar, Braian Galvan (summer)

Key losses: Tim Howard, Tommy Smith

Colorado are kind of a lite version of the Crew at this point.

They're deep everywhere, have a number of interesting players and bought a new No. 10 Designated Player. They lean more towards youth than veterans, hence the "lite". In that mold, they continued their ethos of adding distressed assets by acquiring Auston Trusty from the Philadelphia Union this winter, as well as securing a permanent deal for Lalas Abubakar after the defender excelled on loan last year. 

Younes Namli lifts an already promising attack while Nico Benezet elbows his way into a crowded crop of wingers, where he hit the ground sprinting in preseason with an inside track to starting before breaking his nose. 

FC Dallas

Key additions: Thiago Santos, Franco Jara (summer), Fafa Picault

Key losses: Dom Badji

It was always going to be a tricky offseason for FC Dallas, with their glut of promising youngsters. Between adding competition/quality but not blocking opportunities, FCD settled on just a handful of additions.

In came Brazilian defensive midfielder Thiago Santos, winger Fafa Picault from Philly and, this summer, Liga MX forward Franco Jara. They already have a back four and goalkeeper that picks themselves, concentrating key reinforcements further up the pitch. 

The moves won't stifle the growth of Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira, Ricardo Pepi and others, according to technical director Andre Zanotta, but accelerate it.

“The idea we had by bringing in Thiago Santos, Fafa Picault and Franco Jara is to bring experienced players to help develop our young players even more," Zanotta told MLSsoccer.com last week. "We believe when (Brandon) Servania or (Edwin) Cerrillo plays with Bryan Acosta or Thiago Santos, and (Ricardo) Pepi with Jara, will help them get even better. We’ll keep balancing our team.”

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